Is Today the Beginning of the End for IE8?

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The age of Windows XP is over. Microsoft’s most successful OS was launched on October 25, 2001 and was the first to use the stable NT kernel for both mainstream and business desktops. Starting April 8, the OS is no more. Microsoft has dropped support; you won’t receive updates or technical assistance. Software compatibility will decrease and XP will become a tempting target for criminal crackers.

Few Operating Systems reach the ripe old age of thirteen. While XP reviews were positive, the early months were problematic; it struggled on existing hardware and it took time for manufacturers to release compatible drivers. However, once those issues were eradicated, XP usage peaked at 76% in January 2007.

XP’s long life owed much to the Longhorn/Vista debacle. The next release of Windows took five years to appear and suffered a disastrous reception. Windows 7 did much to address the reputation of the OS but, by that time, people had been using XP for eight years and had grown accustom to its features and quirks. XP usage was only overtaken by Windows 7 in 2012 and, even today, almost one in five users retain the aging OS.

XP users have received plenty of warnings about it’s demise but that doesn’t mean it’ll stop working. People will continue to use XP and Office 2003 unless they have the budget and/or hardware to upgrade. The UK government has even paid $9 million for an additional twelve months of support — largely because 85% of the National Health Service still uses XP (and, somewhat shockingly, IE6).

How Does This Affect Web Developers?

If we forget about Vista (most did), XP is the last version of Windows to support IE6/7 and can only be upgraded to IE8 — which is the last still-in-use mainstream browser not to support HTML5. You may disagree, but IE8 development isn’t too difficult unless you’re making a futile attempt at cross-browser pixel perfection. IE8 may not support rounded corners, box shadows and CSS3 animations but it’s generally well behaved compared to its predecessors. That said, dropping IE8 support would make our lives considerably easier.

Like us, Microsoft want people to upgrade from XP for commercial and technical reasons. There are various discounts and Windows is now being offered for free to smartphone and tablet manufacturers to help it compete with Android. Unfortunately, businesses and the general public are not wholly sold on Windows 8. The combined tablet/desktop OS is confusing for those coming from previous editions and relatively few PCs have touch screen support.

Personally, I like Windows 8 but the first few weeks were frustrating. Even now, I discover features I should have known about months ago! Microsoft is addressing some issues and an update this week will deliver a more consistent and familiar experience for desktop users. The Start Menu also looks set to return soon (which I predicted in 2012!).

Whether these updates convince people to abandon XP and IE8 is another matter. Migration will occur, but I suspect it will take far longer than we hope. Today may not mark the end for IE8 but it’s certainly the beginning of the end.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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